War fears and a weaker dollar helped push gold futures prices to their highest levels in nearly three months Friday on New York's Commodity Exchange. Other precious metals also rose sharply.

On other commodity markets, crude oil rallied; copper futures surged; orange juice retreated; grains and soybeans were lower; and livestock and meat futures were mixed.Gold futures settled $8.60 to $9.10 higher with the contract for delivery in January at $394 a troy ounce, the highest settlement of a near-month gold contract since Oct. 8.

Silver futures were 9 cents to 9.9 cents higher with January at $4.19 a troy ounce; platinum futures finished $4.50 to $7.20 higher on the New York Mercantile Exchange with January at $409.90 a troy ounce.

Prices soared in thin trading conditions as the dollar weakened and tensions in the Middle East mounted.

The rally strengthened as gold broke out of its recent trading range and the February contract burst through successive levels of resistance at $390, $391.50 and $394 an ounce.

February gold settled near the day's high at $396.20, "suggesting to me that the next stop will be somewhere in the low $400 area," said Peter Cardillo, commodities trading adviser with Jesup, Josephthal & Co. in New York.

The Pentagon denied market rumors of a military clash in the Middle East, but the talk underscored the anxiety that continues to build as the Jan. 15 United Nations deadline for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait ap-proaches.

In developments Friday, the Pentagon announced plans to vaccinate troops against possible germ warfare attacks by Iraq, and a 17-ship carrier armada set sail to bring America's naval deployment in the region to a level unprecedented since the Vietnam War.